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Sustainable Design in Minnesota

Posted by Lester Shen  |  Date August 24, 2012  |  Comments 0

A recent announcement from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) reports that the total footprint of LEED-certified commercial buildings throughout the world has exceeded two billion square feet. We are pleased to feature Rick Carter as a guest blogger to tell us about his experience in sustainable design in Minnesota. Rick is the Senior Vice President in LHB’s Minneapolis office and is a LEED Fellow. He works extensively on issues of sustainable design by promoting improved indoor air quality, energy efficiency, and resource efficiency. He helped develop the Hennepin County/Minnesota Sustainable Design Guidelines and currently manages the Buildings, Benchmarks and Beyond (B3) Project. Rick was a member of the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group and a co-chair for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Mayor’s Green Manufacturing Initiative.

LHB Inc. is an architecture, planning, and engineering firm with deep roots in sustainable design, having focused on energy efficient and healthy buildings for over twenty years. We have collaborated with CEE for most of that time, working on public and private projects with sustainable design as a key element. Much of this work has combined CEE’s research and engineering base with LHB’s architecture and work on actual building projects.

Sustainable design certainly has its roots in the energy crisis of the 1970’s and even Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, before that. The current iteration began in the last 1980’s, with green guidelines like The Austin Green Builder Program and Colorado Built Green, leading to the USGBC’s LEED system and the Living Building Challenge. In Minnesota, we actually had a lead on LEED with the Hennepin County Sustainable Design Guidelines, which evolved into today’s B3, Minnesota Sustainable Building Guidelines.  

LHB was introduced to the Architecture 2030 Challenge, when we saw Ed Mazria speak about five years ago. Most of what he said, we had heard before, but we had a very different reaction.  He talked about climate change, the fact that buildings continue to be 50% of CO2e emissions, that we need to predict and measure Energy Use Intensity (EUI). What we really heard for the first time that day was “we need to measure”. Since then, LHB has gone around trying to measure everything we can, related to sustainable building and site design. It started with annual whole building energy use in kBtu/ft2-person, which was relatively straightforward.  

Then, we began getting annual whole building water consumption in gallons/person-day.  A little less clear, but easy to measure.

Next, we hired the University of Minnesota St Anthony Falls Hydraulic Laboratory to measure site stormwater run-off volume, rate and quality. These are heavily regulated, extensively predicted, but almost never measured in the field. In addition, we have begun to focus on some areas of disaggregated metrics, like monthly water consumption, to shine a light on summer irrigation use, and plugload in buildings, which is steadily increasing, as we try to use less total energy.

LHB's latest endeavor is to measure energy use, water consumption, miles traveled, and waste generated in entire cities. Our current study involves collecting this data in twenty cities for a full four years. In each city, we are getting energy and water consumption monthly,separated for residential and commercial/industrial uses. Other relevant information  we can gather for these cities includes: population, households, jobs (including the ten and twenty year projections), heating and cooling degree days, rainfall, area, and density. We are just now compiling the information, analyzing and getting ready to share it publicly, in order to drive reductions in CO2e and other environmental factors.


There is very little precedent in how this information is being measured and reported in current literature. We have been reporting total residential energy use in kBtu/person-year, commercial industrial use in kBtu/job-year, residential water consumption in gallons/person-day and commercial/industrial use in gallons/job-day.  We are just now beginning to analyze the data by comparing city metrics to themselves over time, to each other, to world and national averages, business as usual projections and targeted reductions, based on carbon emissions reduction goals. The information will be published with each city’s stakeholders (residents and businesses) as the primary audience. 

This process began as a way for cities involved in a Minnesota program, called GreenStep Cities (a kind of LEED for cities) to assist them in making informed decisions about which strategies or Best Management Practices (BMPs) to pursue and to track their progress, in order to know how successful they are. It is important with any environmental improvement process to have a set of researched strategies (BMPs) and a set of metrics to track and analyze. LHB feels that the community scale is unique to promote large scale change. As an architect practicing in the building realm, I can safely say that many individuals and businesses feel that they are too small to make a difference in the big picture. Although we have discussions at the global and national scale, very little seems to be accomplished. For a community (city, town, neighborhood), we can track most of this information with accuracy and see changes when actions take place. 

Next steps will be to pursue additional metrics (for example; materials and health) and to dissect or disaggregate at all scales. Information needs to go from periodic to constant, so results are seen in real time. Predictions at all scales need to move further upstream, so that energy use in buildings are predicted in the concept stage and in cities in planning stages. Then, we will make significant progress.

Imagine this: the next time you leave a room, and turn off the light switch, a dial on the wall indicates the energy being consumed in the room, even after you are gone. Realising that the ventilation is still operating and that the video conferencing unit draws power even when it is turned off, indicates the need for more action in order to get the desired results. Now, imagine a meter on the city hall, indicating the total energy consumed in the entire city, year to date, compared to the average similar city in your region, and to your own city over last year. If everyone saw this meter, or had access to it online, could it have a similar impact, at a much larger scale?

Related Innovation Exchange project:

Minnesota Sustainable Buildings 2030


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